Steelers' Mike Tomlin has 'big-time concerns' about rookie readiness due to virtual-only offseason

Mike Tomlin smiled while acknowledging that, for the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2020 rookie class, they probably prefer meeting via Zoom than physically going to a facility for team meetings. Instead of participating in rookie minicamp and team OTAs, NFL rookies are working virtually with their new coaches as they prepare for the 2020 season. 

But while the NFL's new rookie class may be more equipped to deal with the current climate (as it relates to the NFL's virtual-only offseason) as opposed to previous generations, Tomlin, who is entering his 14th season as the Steelers' head coach, is concerned about how the current situation will impact this year's rookies when it is time to play. 

"I've got big-time concerns about their development and readiness," Tomlin recently told Jalen McCain during an Instagram video. "Not only our rookies, but all rookies. And so from that standpoint, it's fair. It's something that all rookies are gonna have to deal with, not only ours but everybody's. Their ability to contribute, their ability to gain significant roles and to maintain those significant roles are gonna be challenging in these circumstances, more challenging than normal. And I think throughout the course of this journey, we're all going to realize how significant or maybe insignificant that is."

As it relates to his rookie class, Tomlin said that he and the Steelers are "turning over every stone to make it as impactful as we can make it, and the guys are active participants in that in the skills that they bring." Tomlin said that, during a recent Zoom meeting, he challenged his rookie class to become better listeners, comparing that skill to hitting a golf ball. 

"You go to the driving range, you acknowledge that certain people are naturally better at golf than others," Tomlin said. "Listening is the same way. So if you're a good listener, first of all, you need to be thankful for that, because you're blessed in that way. But you also need to acknowledge that you can get better at it, because it's a skill. Probably the most important thing is, if you're not a good listener, you better know it, and you better take the necessary steps to work at it and improve. 

"Because being a poor listener slows down progress in all areas. People give you good information all the time that are helping you in in your journey. If you're a good listener, you retain those messages, and you roll with it. Today, in this type of environment, we're acknowledging, 'Yeah, we're not doing physical work, but we are getting a lot of information, and what are you doing with it? How much of it are you obtaining? What skillset do you bring to the stage in terms of listening?' And really just making guys focus on something that maybe they don't spend a lot time focusing on. So there's little things like that that these circumstances really create for all of us that we spend a little time thinking about." 

Tomlin acknowledged that rookies that thrive in community settings may struggle adapting to their new environment, while players that may excel in individual settings currently have an advantage. 

"The guys that need community, they need to understand that they're in harms way," Tomlin said, "and they better play up and do what it is they need to do in terms of preparing themselves."

While admitting that he is "going crazy" in his house, Tomlin added that he is blessed that he and his family have remained safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Tomlin said that he is using the current situation as a challenge for his rookie class, a challenge he hopes they are able to overcome. 

"You can waste a lot of time talking about how individually frustrating these circumstances are for you," Tomlin said, "but you really just need to quickly understand that they're frustrating for everyone, so from that standpoint, it's fair. So you need to spend your time thinking about how you're thinking about taking advantage of certain circumstances, how you can grow and what areas you can grow in in circumstances such as this."

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